Spectrum Warriors: Life Through The Autism Spectrum

Autism and the New Brunswick Provincial Election

This is my first provincial election since MJ’s Asperger/Autism diagnosis. I generally always read every party’s platform, watch the debate and then make my decision based on whose platform I like best. This time round there’s been one thing on my mind, I want to know who has the best platform when it comes to Autism policies in this province.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the preschool services we received here in Fredericton were fantastic, but as we’ve noted in other posts related to the proposed changes (that are now on hold indefinitely), not all regions receive the same equal level of service with government funded tax dollars. While my daughter is high functioning, and would not need a care facility when she is an adult, there are no such services here for families of children with severe autism and that’s a massive gap that needs to be closed.

Two parties note this in their platform and commit to building a facility for adults with severe autism, but do not have any other reference to autism in their plans. The other three parties make no mention of autism what so ever in their platforms. With this in mind, I posed a series of questions to all parties, yet at the time of writing this blog post (5 days later), only heard back from two. The two who made commitments to begin with. I will update the post if I get any other responses, but as of now, it’s clear that if autism is as important to you as it is to me, your vote should be with either The New NDP or the Green Party.

While we as a blog are not endorsing any particular candidates, I can tell you that I’ve had numerous conversations with NDP Candidates, some of whom are raising children on the spectrum – that’s right, at least three – if not four, of the candidates with the NDP are personally affected by autism. In fact, one candidate advised me that Dominic Cardy has even personally attended medical appointments with his family so he can understand the challenges they face. That speaks volumes in my books. I also applaud the Green Party’s commitment to creating an Autism Working Group comprised of various stakeholders from the community, including parents.

Below are the questions and answers from each of the two parties. The first question was only asked of the Green and NDP, the next seven were asked of all parties.

In your platform you commit to building a facility for adults with severe autism. Can you please provide any details around the time frame for this and how you envision this being set up/run?
Green Party:
We would really need to have discussions with you and other parents to figure out how this would be set up.  Each family is different and struggling with different issues.  As for a time frame, it should be built as soon as the parameters are worked out with the families who know best what is needed.    At this time, governments seem to work in silos:  education in one, community and family services in another, health care in yet another.  There ought to be something like an Autism Working Group with someone from each department and parents together, working out the details of what is needed.
There is no specific timeline for building a provincial centre for the care of adults with Autism, it will be done within the 4-year mandate.  It will be setup and run based on a framework described by experts such as Dr. Paul McDonnell.

1. What is your commitment level to the current 20 hours of ABA therapy children received, funded by the government? Would this continue and what changes would you suggest?

Green Party:
This is again needing discussion with parents.  It’s clear that the earlier the interventions, the better for the children.  At times it must seem as if all your energy is going into advocating for your children.  If there was a single point of contact with government, like the Working Group mentioned above, it would make things a lot easier.
The new NDP is committed to maintaining the current level of 20 hours of ABA therapy per week, in fact the new NDP has publicly come out against the proposed cuts by the current PC government, which eventually was reversed:  http://www.nbndp.ca/ndp-calls-for-restored-funding-for-autism-early-intervention-centres/
*SpectrumWarriors Note these were not technically cuts*

2. There are currently 6 centres in the province delivering these pre-school services, but they all have different operating models and offer different levels of service. There is no consistency amongst what is provided/offered to families. How would your government change this?

Green Party:
We have a Community Health Centre model where doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses and other health care professionals work as a team to provide health care for patients.  It makes similar sense for the centres to work together with the parents to deliver the services that they specifically need.  It sounds like each of the centres had its own origins; they certainly ought to be brought to the same high consistent level of care.  Again, if there was a Working Group to actually accomplish this it would be very useful.
The new NDP will implement several changes to Early Childhood education, and making sure consistent services are accessible regardless of residence is included in this. There are many parents of children with Autism who have to leave their jobs because they can’t find childcare to work around their Autism Intervention schedules or they can’t find a childcare facility that has staff trained to care for their child with Autism. The new NDP will address this by creating a high-quality, affordable and universal early childhood education program which will include ALL children.

3. Some children require occupational therapy in conjunction with ABA, but the wait times are long and parents are now forced to pay out of pocket in order to get vital services at a young age. What would your government do to change this?

Green Party:
The earlier these interventions happen the better for the child and the family.  We would make sure that there were enough Occupational Therapists (​OT) ​in the right places to provide the help that is needed. 

We have no specific plans to change the current ABA model for preschool children, however what has worked in many cases in New Brunswick and other jurisdictions, is to have more occupational therapy including in a child’s ABA intervention.  This is something a parent can talk about with their clinical supervisor.

4. There is a shortage of EAs in the classroom for kids entering the school system, how would you address this?

Green Party:
The shortage of EAs is due to the tight fiscal situation the Education Department finds itself in.  The fiscal situation is due to shortsighted tax cuts.  With our new tax measures implemented, there will be additional funds to Education and Health, which ought partly to be used to add personnel to the classroom.
The new NDP will introduce the Creative Schools Act, which, among other things, will eliminate the No Fail Policy that currently exists and make sure each child has an individual learning plan and the support they need to succeed. Also, the new NDP will give back power to DECs around hiring and budgeting so their will be no political interference in these matters.

5. Once kids age out of the pre-school therapy, there is little support in the school system to continue with ABA therapy, and waits for services like occupational or speech therapy are often very long forcing parents to pay out of pocket. How would you address this?

Green Party:
See above #3.  Too many OT and speech therapy positions have been cut out of the system.  See #4.
Again, the Creative Schools Act will give all children the support they need to succeed; this would include the provision of therapy for children that require it.

6. The supports (EAs and services) in the school system appear to be almost non existent for the students with high functioning autism, parents – ourselves included – find that we are at the bottom of wait lists or have to fight to receive any support (including EA). How would your government address this?

Green Party:
The Autism Working Group would be useful for this item.  Families should not have to fight for support. The job of government is to give that support as it is needed.

No parent should have to “fight” for services their children require. Any child, who requires extra support to be successful, should receive it. This will be covered under the Creative Schools Act

7. Very few actual parents are consulted or brought in to help advise on autism services. Would you support and commit to establishing a stakeholder committee made of up parents representing all levels and ages of children in our community with autism?

 Green Party:
The Autism Working Group would be such a committee. 
The new NDP has no specific plan to create such a committee. Typically this would be done by stakeholders creating an advocacy group for Autism and having that group work with different government departments as needed to shape policy.

Spectrum Warriors would like to thank the parties who responded, and remind all our New Brunswick readers to vote on Monday, September 22

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